Masters countdown: Six-time champ Jack's doing his bit for Luke and Rory
21:32 GMT, 2 April 2012
If Luke Donald or Rory McIlroy should win the green jacket at the Masters the contribution of the greatest Master of all should not be underestimated.
Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus has not only offered counsel to the top two players in the world, he has even built them their own practice facility.
Or so it might feel to fellow members of the Bear’s Club in South Florida, where McIlroy and Donald have been warming up for Augusta, spending countless hours side by side on the practice areas.
Champion: Jack Nicklaus receives the green jacket
‘I think Luke is wearing the place out,’ said Nicklaus, when asked about Donald’s dedication.
‘Every time I’m there he’s out practising his chipping and putting. It’s not luck as to why he has such a magical short game.’
Donald’s home from home is the par-three course, where his routine is as meticulously structured as every other part of his life.
Three balls are struck every three yards to leave a divot pattern that has become part of Donald’s golfing DNA.
After 30 balls, he counts how many shots stop inside a six-foot ring he places around each hole. He does this for hours, changing the distance and the style of shot, before recording the results in a performance diary.
‘I like Jack’s place because it simulates real golf,’ said Donald. ‘The greens take spin, they have contours and they change the pins almost every day, so I’m hitting different shots.’
Anything I can do to help, you can almost hear Jack saying.
The pair first met at a charity
function in Chicago. ‘We were in a car together and I asked him for
advice and how he was so successful in majors,’ said Donald.
‘He told me my driving accuracy was
probably the key area I needed to work on. That’s something I knew
myself, but hearing it from Jack gave more substance to it.
Glad: Luke Donald was grateful for Nicklaus' advice
‘I see him around the Bear’s Club quite a lot and he’s happy to give you advice if you ask him. When it comes to preparation and things like that, it can’t but help to learn from the most successful golfer who ever lived.’
Nicklaus has also been a regular source of wisdom for McIlroy since he first set foot in America as a pro. The Golden Bear was one of the first people the 22-year-old sought out last year following his Masters meltdown.
They talked through that last round and Nicklaus told him about setting himself incremental targets in the future as the final round progressed, so he wouldn’t get ahead of himself.
It was advice McIlroy took on board at the US Open and will use again this week should he get into contention.
He’s another huge fan of the Bear’s Club – a prime reason why he settled on south Florida as his base for three months of the year.
During the first week of his three-week break from competitive golf, McIlroy worked on his long game there with his coach, Michael Bannon, before honing his short-game skills last week.
Nicklaus smiles when asked what he says to the likes of Donald and McIlroy, plus others like defending champion Charl Schwartzel and US PGA winner Keegan Bradley, that has such a profound effect.
‘I’m not sure what it is they get out of it but if it helps it certainly makes me happy,’ he said.
Let’s hope it makes the whole of the UK happy come Sunday night.
Assistance: Rory McIlroy is also grateful for Nicklaus' help
Ernie Els is not the only familiar face missing from Augusta this year. Fanny Sunesson, who caddied for Nick Faldo for each of his three Masters triumphs and who now works for Henrik Stenson, is at home nursing an injured back.
‘She has some nerve damage and it will be a while before we see her again,’ said Stenson. ‘She injured it in Switzerland last year and the most important thing now is for her to regain full mobility to do day-to-day things. When that happens we can see if she can come back and do some caddying and, if so, how much.’
There'll be no golf on the BBC soon
At a time when the game in the UK is at an all-time high, how can it possibly be right that interest in the game at the BBC is at an all-time low As we gear ourselves up to see how the world’s top three players fare at the Masters news comes from our national broadcaster they are pulling out of live European Tour coverage.
So much for watching Rory, Luke and Lee on the BBC. The only time you’ll see them now is this weekend at the Masters, all four days of The Open in July, the odd highlights package and that’s your lot. Talk about losing the plot.
The contempt in which they hold the game will be evident at the weekend, too. Guess who’s been drafted in to ask questions of the players
Big miss: Henrik Stenson will not have his caddie Fanni Sunesson
Actually, you’d never guess – former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan.
How silly of me to think he would be more gainfully employed giving his expert analysis for Test Match Special at the second Test in Sri Lanka.
Contrast the BBC’s approach with the veritable army of people, golfing and otherwise, Sky have sent over for their coverage of this event.
Give it another two years and what price the Masters disappearing from BBC screens as well, with The Open no doubt not too far behind
Can Billy justify this ban on women now
What are the chances of Masters chairman Billy Payne opening his remarks to the press on Tuesday with a statement that would resonate throughout the sporting world and beyond: namely, the unveiling of the club’s first woman member
Not great, perhaps, given it is the club’s stated policy not to comment on membership issues and there are some who believe Paris will get another Eiffel Tower before Augusta gets a woman member.
Payne, however, has surprised us before, as he showed with his stinging criticism of Tiger Woods two years ago, and there is no question that the subject of women members has become a thorny issue once more.
That is because the last four CEOs of IBM – a long-time corporate sponsor of the Masters – have become members of the club and, wouldn’t you know it, the latest to hold that post just happens to be a golf-playing woman of all things. How can Augusta not invite her to become a member without appearing perpetrators of a cast-iron example of discrimination based on a person’s sex
Fair Ryo Ishikawa has been invited by Ernie Els has missed out
It is not the only tricky matter facing Payne. The second concerns the controversial invitation given to the Japanese starlet Ryo Ishikawa.
What possible justification can there be for him receiving a second one at the age of just 20 except as a sop to the massive commercial power of Japanese television
Unlike many of my colleagues, I have no problem with Ernie Els not being given one, despite his mighty contribution to the tournament over the years.
But the argument that Ernie shouldn’t get one is based on the belief that nobody should get one and so falls down completely when Ishikawa is handed a spot.
Over to you, Billy.
Quote of the Week
‘I’d expect him to play well here. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t. He’s powerful again, he’s driving the ball well and he’s got that little bit of pep in his stride again.’
After playing a practice round with Tiger Woods on Sunday, his long-time publicist – sorry, Mark O’Meara – banged the drum regarding Tiger’s chances of a fifth green jacket.